I was looking for the apartment on la rue Consolat. I took a side street towards where I thought it was, and passed a portly woman sitting on a stoop and asked her for directions.
"Rue Consolat?" she pondered. "Non, je ne connais pas" she said deliberately. "Pardon!" she erupted, surprising me with her seeming inability to modulate her voice.
I continued to the next intersection and looked up at the corner of a building to see a blue sign that sure enough read "Rue Consolat". I looked over at the woman on the stoop who was less than 20 meters away. I waved and yelled "C'est ici!" but she didn't notice me.
After having established the location of the appartment I went to a small café I know to wait for the landlady who is notoriously late. It's a café I've gone to several times, mostly while waiting for Audrey who taught classes nearby last year.
The waiter brought me a pastis. The proper way to serve pastis is to pour a shot over an icecube or two and present with a bottle of water, allowing the customer to add the amount of water he prefers. My pastis came premixed, which is more and more common these days, and is surely an indication of the eroding morals and eventual descent of western civilization.
I was pondering the mysterious black specks floating in my glass when a drunk man in his 60's sat next to me. He opened his packet of cigarillos and asked me if it bothered me if he smoked. I acted surprised, since at least in France they haven't yet outlawed smoking outside.
"Je suis respectieux!" he explained. I appreciated that! He licked his finger and held it in the air. "Tu vois, le vent vient de ce côté, donc ça pourrait te gêner!" You're right, I said. I'm asthmatic I said. But I didn't say that I just don't like people breathing smoke on me, no matter what the associated health risks. He obviously didn't expect me to actually ask him to not smoke, and reluctantly said, well, I guess I'll go over there... No, no, no, I said, let's just switch seats. That way the smoke will blow away from me and you'll still be in the sun.
At first he was reluctant, but then his ruddy cheeks beemed, clearly pleased that we could come to such a civil and mutually beneficial agreement, and we congratulated ourselves for our sensitivity and politeness. Not a common sight these days, he'll tell me.
Now he was on my right. "Oh! Je vais commander" he said. He came back with a small glass of red wine. Since I engaged him before, he now felt comfortable to chat me up. He asked me what I do, and he told me he had heard about ancient DNA before. He told me about his cats and their names. He talked about how young I am and how old he is. I found out that he was a diesel truck mechanic. He punctiated all of his phrases by prodding my arm with the back of his hand.
He was a prodder. This inebriated exagerated tactile need that can be found worldwide. His hands were tough and dirty, and frankly I didn't like it at all. Relax, it's just your overcoat. Just the other day you scraped pigeon shit off of it without a second thought. The outside of my coat had become part of the public urban landscape.
Finally he remembered that he wanted to light his cigarillo. It was quite windy, and even someone with all of their senses would have a hard time. He failed miserably 4 times.
Then another customer's dog jumped on a passerby, who was drooling drunk. He was a poor, poor bastard, and decided to stop and slur indignations on the dog's owners. He told them that the dog damaged his pants. His hobo pants had so many patches that there was practically nothing left of the original set of jeans. He called the dog names.
The drunk next to me derided the other drunk, and if he wasn't such a nice guy he'd pop him one. Poor dog, he said.
Ah, just another beautiful Saturday afternoon in Marseille I thought.